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Master plan called failure

A $500,000 master plan for downtown Lexington was labeled a failure Tuesday for its lack of influence on the CentrePointe high-rise project.

Harold Tate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, was scheduled to make a routine report at the Urban County Council's planning committee meeting Tuesday on progress on recommendations in city's downtown master plan. Instead, Tate spent most of his time in defense mode.

He was peppered with questions from council members on why the master plan did not prevent a block of historic buildings from being demolished and did allow the 35-story CentrePointe hotel-condo project to be approved.

Councilman Tom Blues asked Tate why the master plan did not have significant influence on the height and design of the proposed 35-story CentrePointe hotel and condominium project. Blues said CentrePointe developer Dudley Webb said on television recently that he was not aware of the master plan and had never read it.

Blues said he considered the plan to be ”a failure.“

The $500,000 master plan was drafted in 2007 by the Washington-based firm Ayers/Sant/Gross, Architects + Planners. The analysis looked at the city's downtown buildings, traffic patterns, vacant land, neighborhoods and recreational and cultural opportunities.

When presented in 2007, it was described by city officials as a road map expected to play a vital role in downtown's renaissance.

The plan, the city's first downtown master plan in almost 40 years, was paid for with private money – donations from individuals, groups and institutions.

Among the recommendations were to restrict building height, increase residential development and redevelop Vine Street with two-way traffic and a tree-lined median down the middle.

Tate called the plan ”a tool to redevelop our downtown, but there are other tools as well.“ He mentioned the comprehensive plan, zoning and traffic ordinances and the Courthouse Overlay Zone.

”When you do a small area development plan, like the downtown master plan is, it is not going to identify and address every issue,“ Tate said.

Tate said the plan used input from hundreds of citizens. ”It addresses as many of their needs as it possibly could,“ Tate said.

Blues said he realized a master plan could not address every detail.

”But when there is significant public input that went into this plan, and now there is significant public disillusion and despair and pessimism and people are saying ... "why were we so committed,' I'm concerned how we avoid this failure in the future,“ Blues said

The city's top two officials have laid out differing strategies for avoiding such conflict. Mayor Jim Newberry said he did not favor a design review board to approve designs of future projects as the Courthouse Area Design Review Board did for CentrePointe. He also wants a survey to determine the historic or architectural significance of downtown structures built more than 50 years ago.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray plans to form a task force to examine the fallout from CentrePointe, including why the city allowed structures like those on the block to deteriorate to the point it was not feasible to save them.

Tuesday, council member Dick DeCamp said he and many others, thought recommendations in the master plan carried the weight of specific restrictions on issues such as building height. But in fact, DeCamp said, they were only recommendations.

”When I needed the master plan, it wasn't there,“ DeCamp said.

DeCamp said he hoped restrictions can be added.

Chris King, director of the division of planning said council can pass a zoning ordinance text amendment setting a downtown height limit. The Planning Commission would then hold a public hearing and make a recommendation on the amendment. It would then go back to the council for final approval.

King said that, when the CentrePointe controversy has ”played itself out,“ the council and Planning Commission should discuss the CentrePointe controversy and how downtown projects ”can be handled better in the future.“